Sunday 28 May 2017

Sinn Fein seeks to block Dail comments on former worker

Workplace dispute: Former Sinn Fein worker Aoife Booth brought a case against the party
Workplace dispute: Former Sinn Fein worker Aoife Booth brought a case against the party
Philip Ryan

Philip Ryan

Sinn Fein TDs sought to shut down a debate on workers' rights last week when the party's own workplace practices were raised in the Dail, the Sunday Independent can reveal.

During a debate on a Sinn Fein bill seeking to give trade unions more access to workers, the party tried to silence Fianna Fail jobs spokesman, Niall Collins, when he highlighted a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) case taken by a former Sinn Fein constituency worker.

The case, which was revealed by this newspaper last weekend, will for the first-time highlight how Gerry Adams' party spends millions of euro of taxpayers' money.

Speaking in the Dail, Mr Collins contrasted the "measured" criticism from Sinn Fein of Fianna Fail's position on workers' rights against how "they treat their own employees, which I read about in the papers".

"In particular, I noted with interest its position on non-disclosure agreements," the Limerick TD added.

Mr Collins was referring to a settlement offered to former Sinn Fein worker Aoife Booth, in return for signing a non-disclosure agreement.

He also noted that Ms Booth, did not have "trade union representation" at the WRC hearing.

During Mr Collins' contribution, Sinn Fein public expenditure spokesman David Cullinane demanded that he withdraw his comment and said it was "absolutely inappropriate" for the TD to mention the ongoing workplace relations dispute involving Sinn Fein.

"For the Deputy to call into question the integrity of my party and anybody associated with my party because of an ongoing case is despicable on his part. It shows his absolute lack of interest in procedures," Mr Cullinane said.

Acting Dail chairman Declan Breathnach told Mr Cullinane to sit down and show "a small bit of manners" before allowing Mr Collins finish his speech.

The WRC case centres on a claim that Sinn Fein unfairly dismissed Ms Booth, a young mother-of-three, after the General Election. Ms Booth worked in Meath West TD Peadar Toibin's constituency office in Navan but claims she was employed by and answerable to Sinn Fein senior management.

The party confirmed it supplemented Ms Booth's salary every week but denies it was her employer. It also said it paid her wages during the General Election campaign as Mr Toibin was technically no longer a TD.

However, Sinn Fein maintains that Ms Booth signed a fixed-term employment contract with Mr Toibin, which expired once the election was called.

The young mother worked full-time for Mr Toibin for the two years leading up to the General Election. Mr Toibin got his highest-ever vote and returned to the Dail after the votes were counted. However, Ms Booth claimed she was told by the TD she would have to re-apply for her job.

She also claimed Mr Toibin told her she should keep her options open as he had "no power" over employment decisions. Sinn Fein claims Ms Booth told the TD she had found another job and would not be reapplying for the role.

"It is impossible to separate the TD and the party in terms of work done. She was the only member of staff working in an office that also serves the councillors and party members," Ms Booth stated in her affidavit.

"Nobody in Sinn Fein is permitted to work independently, to do so would be reprehensible and considered a breach of policy," she added.

Like all TDs, Sinn Fein representatives are paid €87,258 before tax. However, they are only permitted to earn the average industrial wage of around €38,500 - although this has increased by €2,000 recently.

Under Sinn Fein rules, each TD gives a €2,500 donation to the party as this is the highest amount allowed under Standard in Public Office Commission (Sipo) rules.

The remaining €47,000 is used to hire additional constituency staff or pay for local political expenses.

Sunday Independent

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